History of Sicily
1 Prehistoric Sicily
1.3.3: Age of Metals: Burials and Age of Metals

In the Eneolithic the individual type burial is less and less used in favor of the collective one, for this purpose natural caves or caves dug into the rock are used, as is the case of the burials found in Piano Arceri, not far from Pedal and nearby Calaforno Giarratana. In some collective burials it was found a continuous use of the burial chamber which remained accessible. Sometimes the remains of previous depositions were pushed aside or removed entirely to proceed to new burials.

In Sicily the cave tomb constitutes, albeit with some architectural variations, the most frequent type of tomb up to the Greek colonization.


Ragusa: Vallata Santa Domenica. Tombs in Grotticelle

 In this type of tombs the sepulchral chamber consists of a cave carved into the rock, and is often preceded by a kind of antechamber or corridor. As a whole they constituted a structure such as to make them resemble some typical Sicilian peasant ovens. For this reason, archaeologists have used the name of "oven caves" or "oven tombs". The oven tombs are probably of oriental origin, as would indicate the discovery of tombs with these characteristics found in Palestine, in the Peloponnese and Crete. [1]

 Archaeological itineraries of Sicily The rock necropolis of Pantalica


 In an initial phase the oven tombs are intended for single burials, later they will be used for collective burials [2], probably due to the increase in population. Cases of collective graves occur in Contrada Paolina in the Ragusa area already mentioned in relation to the Neolithic period where 50 individuals have been identified and in the Piano Arceri locality between Mazzarrone and Acate.

 In some cases the funeral rite foresees that the body of the deceased is placed on a bed of red ocher as evidenced in Contrada Pozzi in Syracuse.

 During the Early Bronze Age the funerary ritual is varied, reflecting a stratification that is not only of a socio-economic but also cultural type, a consequence of intense exchanges both towards the Aegean and towards mainland Italy. Sometimes we witness a typical practice of the Indo-European peoples: cremation. An example of this type is a Lipari where in a necropolis in the Diana district around thirty tombs have been identified in which the ashes of the deceased are placed in urns, some with jars, placed in a pit in the ground [3]. On a nearby island, a filicudi, the rite of burial in natural ravines is present. In addition to cave burials, the use of artificial caves continues (Castelluccio, Sabucina, Ragusa Ibla, Paraspola, Cava dei Servi), even if, at times, we witness their elaboration towards what are called the Mycenaean beehive tombs, or caves dug into the rock and located in hardly accessible places, with several rows and similar to many windows placed side by side to the other.


Cava D'Ispica: Baravitalla

Of considerable interest is the necropolis of Castelluccio (Noto) consisting of almost two hundred tombs of the "oven tombs" type where some were closed by stone doors, three in particular, are considered exceptional as they are carved with anthropomorphic figures and spiral-shaped motifs constitute a rare testimony of indigenous sculpture of prehistoric Sicily .


Castelluccio tomb door

According to Luigi bernabò Brea, the Castelluccio doors show a certain analogy with the sculptures of the Maltese temples of the Tarxien age [4] Another tomb also considered exceptional was preceded by a portico with four pillars carved into the rock.

A type of burial rarely used in Sicily is the one based on dolmens, tombs with megalithic structures consisting of two or more monolithic elements acting as pillars on which a heavy stone slab is placed. Examples of megalithic burials are found above all in the Iblei in Contrada Paolina, Monte Racello, Cava dei Servi and Cava Lazzaro,


In some cases, such as a Naxos and Milazzo, next to the burials in caves there is the burial within phitos. THE Phithoi they were large vessels for food, placed in a horizontal or vertical position, they were used above all for the burial of children and sometimes also for adults.



Pthos of Knossos (Crete)

Towards the Middle Bronze Age, cases of burial within pithos increase, cases of this kind have been identified in the Aeolian Islands and a necropolis of about 50 burials has been identified in Caravello locality (Milazzo). However, the most common rite is the one that provides for collective burial in natural caves or artificial caves. Some of the burial chambers of the caves, as is the case with Milena e S. Angelo of Muxaro, have side niches and a rounded domed vault, thus resembling the Aegean-Mycenaean "tholos"


Phoenician cinerary urn


Cinerary urn with lid bowl

In the final bronze the rite of cremation is very common. Testimonials have a Lipari, Milazzor ea Paternal where in the Piano della Fiera district an urn-cinerary with bowl-lid was found in 1962[5].

 The burials of the necropolis of Milazzo are similar in culture to the "urn fields" present in much of Europe in the twelfth century. BC The center of the culture of the "urn fields" is that region of Europe corresponding today to the territories of Poland and Czechoslovakia. In this type of culture the dead were cremated and the ashes then deposited in urns covered by a kind of bowl. The urn was then buried almost at the level of the ground surface. The urn fields of Milazzo are quite similar to those found in Pianello di Genga in the Marche and in Timmari in Puglia. In Sicily the use of urn fields is to be attributed to Ausoni.

Inhumation in artificial caves is however present in almost the whole island.


History of Sicily by Ignazio Caloggero 

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